Gulfport Marines Recount Their Hurricane Heroism
WLOX-TV Biloxi

James Lockard was in the driver's seat of an amphibious assault vehicle.

"Hey, can I go ahead and raise the ramp?" the lance corporal asked one of his staff sergeants.

Lockard asked a similar question -- in much more treacherous conditions -- back on August 29. That scary afternoon, when the backside of Hurricane Katrina was still pounding south Mississippi, Gulfport Marines ventured out into 70 plus mile per hour winds.

Lockard's mission was simple.

"It was get out there, try to help where you could and get back in," he said. "I wasn't worried so much about my personal safety. It was just get them out of there."

The Marines navigated amphibious assault vehicles through a wall of water that Katrina dumped on Gulfport and Biloxi. Staff Sergeant Joel Coutu will never forget what east Biloxi looked like when his Amtrak splashed its way over there.

"People were walking around, it was almost like a movie, they were in a state of shock," he said. "So they were like zombies."

Coutu was one of six Marines who carefully steered the Amtraks past debris and under downed power lines to pull frightened neighbors to safety.

"Between the people and the animals that were out there that just looked lost, it was just an experience that I don't think any of us will ever forget," the staff sergeant said. "We hope it doesn't happen anytime soon."

At one point during the storm, the Marines picked up some Biloxi police and firefighters. Together, they looked past the flooded roads and the storm soaked yards for anybody who appeared to be trapped. There was plenty of commotion on board. There was a lot of confusion. But there was a job that had to be done.

"There were people who didn't actually want to get in our vehicles," Coutu remembered. "Initially I don't think they knew what to make of us rolling down the road in these vehicles."

When asked if more people would have died without the Marines disaster response team, a humbled Coutu said yes.

"We were just doing our jobs. And we'll go out there and do it again when the time arises," he said.

Staff Sergeant Shannon Sweeney had a similar thought.

"We did our jobs. I mean if it happened again tomorrow, we would go out there again tomorrow and do it," she said.

The story of the Gulfport Marines will be told during the Extreme Makeover Home Edition program that features south Mississippi.

The Marines are stationed at the Gulfport Seabee Base.

by Brad Kessie